BOSTON — Even as the Montreal Canadiens swept through the opening round of the playoffs — their first postseason series victory in four years — they knew that a more difficult challenge was next.
The Boston Bruins. Their Original Six rival. The defending Eastern Conference champions and the NHL’s top team in the regular season.
“That’s our measuring stick,” forward Max Pacioretty said after the Canadiens defeated the Bruins 3-1 last night in Game 7 of a conference semifinal series. “There’s always been that rivalry and that bad feeling between Boston and Montreal. Not just between the cities, but in the (dressing) rooms, too.”
Pacioretty scored the decisive goal and Carey Price made 29 saves to give the Canadiens a spot in the conference finals against the New York Rangers. Game 1 will be in Montreal on Saturday, with the rest of the schedule to be announced.
It’s just the second time since winning their NHL-best 24th Stanley Cup title in 1993 that the Canadiens have reached the third round of the playoffs.
“You have an opportunity to get one step closer to the Stanley Cup,” said Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, the team’s leading scorer in these playoffs. “We deserve it. We played hard. Nothing has come easy for us all year.”
Dale Weise and Daniel Briere also scored for the Canadiens, who needed a victory in Game 6 on Monday night to force the series to a seventh game. They defeated Boston 4-0, and then came to the TD Garden, where Price dominated the Bruins again.
“Carey Price was outstanding. Gave them a chance to win every night,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said of the goalie who led Canada to Olympic gold in February. “You play the way he did, it gives his team a lot of confidence.”
The Canadiens scored just 2:18 into the game to quiet Boston’s crowd, and then made it 2-0 midway through the second period. Jarome Iginla made it 2-1 at the end of the second, but Briere chipped in a power-play goal off Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara’s skate with about three minutes left to make it 3-1.
“We just beat the best team in the league,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said. “Down 3-2 (in the series), and (we) showed a lot of character, a lot of passion. To win a series in Boston, it is a tough place for people to come and play here.”
Tuukka Rask made 15 saves for the Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and returned to the finals last year. He said it was difficult to follow up a successful regular season with a poor performance in the playoffs.
“Especially when you think you have a great team,” he said. “We had a decent first series, but this just shows that winning the regular season doesn’t mean anything.”
In front of boisterous crowds on both sides of the border, the Canadiens won the 34th playoff series between the clubs — the ninth that went the seven-game distance.
But after finishing the regular season with an NHL-best 117 points, having home-ice advantage meant little to the Bruins.
The crowd was stunned in the opening minutes when Briere dug a pass out of the left corner and centered to Weise, who redirected it past Rask. The Canadiens made it 2-0 midway through the second period when David Desharnais chased down the puck to set up a 2-on-1 break with Pacioretty, who one-timed the puck past Rask.